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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

International Dimensions of Authoritarian Rule

Comparative Politics
Section Number
Section Chair
Oisin Tansey
Kings College London
Section Co-Chair
Thomas Richter
German Institute of Global And Area Studies

Research on the international dimensions of authoritarian rule has risen tremendously over recent years. Initially, a small number of contributions have tried to translate some of the more abstract concepts developed in IR or Europeanization research into the realm of research on authoritarian regimes. More recent approaches, however, have changed perspectives. They focus on the external-internal nexus and its impact on regime stability and survival, as well as on policy practices more generally. In addition, policy makers and think tanks have taken notice of the growing relevancy, specificity and influence of authoritarian regimes in regional and global affairs, as well as the gaining importance of interconnections between actors and institutions of many authoritarian regimes across the globe.

Yet although this recent literature has contributed greatly to our understanding of the international politics of authoritarianism, there is scope for greater conceptual clarity, more precise theory building and more rigorous empirical analysis. We therefore invite contributions (complete Panels and Papers) that tackle gaps, problems and questions with regard to the international dimensions of authoritarian rule from diverse angles. Qualitative and quantitative as well as theoretical, conceptual, formal and empirical analyses are welcome.

A list of possible but not exhaustive themes for contributions and Panels could include topics like:

The influence of authoritarian great powers:
Much has been made of the rise of great powers such as Russia and China in recent years, although systematic research into their role in promoting or enabling autocracy abroad is in its early stages. Do regional autocratic powers behave in similar ways as democratic powers or do they display different patterns of behaviour? Contributions on the role of the great powers could address the means, motives and mechanisms that drive their influence on other regimes, as well as focus on the recipients’ side and study their reactions.

Authoritarian diffusion and counter-diffusion:
Diffusion processes are often associated with the spread of democratic ideas and waves of democratic transitions. Yet diffusion can also facilitate the spread of authoritarian practices, policies and institutions. The mechanism of counter-diffusion pertains more specifically to dynamics to prevent the spread of norms and practices that could endanger authoritarian rule. Contributions could address instances of cross-border diffusion across a range of regions and issue areas related to autocracy.

Cooperation between authoritarian regimes:
Authoritarian regimes sometimes cooperate to resist democratic pressures from abroad, yet they also work together on the international stage for reasons unrelated to regime survival. Examples of such cooperation include collaboration on developing and sharing tools of repression (e.g. sharing of technology regarding internet control and surveillance), cooperation in the security and military spheres (including collaboration in violent repression of domestic challenges), as well as issue areas like labour markets, trade and education. We are interested in contributions that address diverse forms of authoritarian cooperation, and that seek to isolate the distinctive nature of cooperation between autocratic regimes.

Authoritarian Learning:
There is growing awareness that authoritarian elites learn from historical experience, events in neighbouring countries and external actors, including other democratic or authoritarian regimes. But how exactly does authoritarian learning take place and what makes it distinct from diffusion or cooperation? Under which conditions does it translate into observable policy change? How can it be studied and measured in authoritarian contexts? We look for contributions which try to assess this novel issue from a range of perspectives and add empirical insights to the existing picture.

International organisations AND Authoritarian Rule:
Much of the recent literature on the international politics of authoritarian rule focuses on how external forces shape authoritarian politics at the domestic level, and there is great scope for further analysing the influence of authoritarian rule on outcomes at the international level. In particular, we know relatively little about the role played by authoritarian regimes within regional and international organisations. Do authoritarian regimes have common interests when engaging with international organisations and other global structures and do they pursue those interests in distinctive ways when compared to democracies? How salient is regime type when explaining the evolution of contemporary global governance institutions?

Migration and Authoritarian Rule:
While the recent migration movements to Europe have been sparked largely by civil war (especially in Syria), they have also been driven by flows of refugees from highly repressive and authoritarian regimes (e.g. Eritrea). Diaspora communities from authoritarian regimes also create particular challenges (and opportunities) for rulers in their home countries and can play a significant role in shaping domestic politics there. Diaspora groups can challenge or undermine the authority of autocratic incumbents at home, but they are rarely homogenous and may also legitimise and bolster the rule of authoritarian leaders. However, this broad area is under-researched, and contributions would be welcome on all aspects of the relationship between authoritarian rule and migrant/refugee flows.

Violent conflict and Authoritarian Rule
Scholarship on the democratic peace theory has provided extensive analysis of the role that regime type plays in the onset of international conflict. There is also an emerging literature on externally sponsored rebel movements. But, research lacks specificity as far as the authoritarian subtype and the concrete conditions of influence are concerned. Contributions are welcome on topics relating to the nexus between international and transnational conflicts and authoritarianism, including the role that autocratic leaders and regimes play in the onset and duration of conflict, and the opportunities (or threats) that conflict may create for authoritarian survival.

Section Convenors
Thomas Richter is a Senior Research Fellow at GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg. He has led the GIGA Research Team on “Persistence and Change in Non-Democratic Regimes” for the last five years and is one among three principal investigators of the IDCAR network (

Oisín Tansey is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the Department of War Studies in King’s College London. He leads the European Research Council project on ‘The International Dimensions of Authoritarian Rule’, and is the author of the forthcoming book The International Politics of Authoritarian Rule (Oxford University Press).

Panel List

Code Title Details
P004A Global Marketplace of Norms - Authoritarian Regimes as Norm Entrepreneurs View Panel Details
P065Conflict and Authoritarianism View Panel Details
P093Diffusion Dynamics Between Authoritarian Regimes View Panel Details
P141External Actors and Authoritarianism View Panel Details
P354Regime Learning under Authoritarianism View Panel Details
P355Regional Organisations as Transmission Belts of Authoritarian Practices, Ideas and Norms View Panel Details
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